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‘Tomorrow Radio’ Tests Second Digital-Channel Concept

National Public Radio wants to test whether it's feasible for non-commercial stations using Ibiquity Digital's HD Radio technology to send two programming streams on each station.

LAS VEGAS National Public Radio wants to test whether it’s feasible for non-commercial stations using Ibiquity Digital’s HD Radio technology to send two programming streams on each station.

NPR has begun a multi-year, multi-million dollar project called “Tomorrow Radio” to do just that.

Kenwood USA and Harris Corp. have agreed to join the first test team for the project.

NPR Executive Vice President Ken Stern said, “Tomorrow Radio represents our commitment to making HD Radio an important new development in delivering programming and services.”

NPR has been working with Ibiquity for a special solution with its IBOC technology. Splitting a station’s spectrum into two channels would mean that station could not use Ibiquity’s blend-to-analog feature. This, in turn, creates certain issues that receiver makers need to resolve.

Manufacturers would need to build receivers capable of processing a second digital program stream and provide another “digital” button on the head unit. They would also need to resolve how these users would have near-instant tuning, one of the reasons Ibiquity uses the blend-to analog technology.

Kenwood plans to test the so-called “second audio” concept later this year at KKJZ(FM), Long Beach, Calif. Harris Broadcast will provide the RF equipment.

Asked whether the FCC would need to approve dual-channel HD operation, one NRSC source said that is yet to be determined.

A major question for the companies involved is whether splitting a station’s spectrum into two channels would still allow those streams to be robust enough to withstand a mobile environment. If not, the concept might be limited to at-work or at-home listening.

As part of the Tomorrow Radio tests, Kenwood will try feeding supplemental audio via the second channel using new receiver designs that it intends to accommodate new digital services. These might include supplemental audio channels and customized services such as zoned traffic announcements, weather reports and market quotations.

The receiver maker also will test choices some consumers have told retailers and manufacturers they’d like in a digital radio, such as high-quality text-to-speech annunciation and customized graphic displays.

“Kenwood and NPR have been allies in the rollout of the Sirius Satellite Radio service, and we look forward to benchmarking new features into the Kenwood product line as a result of this initiative,” said Bob Law, Kenwood USA’s senior vice president.

NPR believes it will take about 10 years for all public radio stations to become fully compatible with HD Radio.

Also on the public radio front, WUSF(FM), Tampa, Fla., an NPR affiliate, recently announced a digital upgrade of its transmission system and planned to go HD in early February using Harris RF equipment.

“When the HD Radio conversion is completed, WUSF will use the separate amplification model to broadcast both analog FM and IBOC digital signals and will be one of the first public broadcast radio stations to broadcast HD Radio,” Harris stated.